|Friday, July 4
Updated: July 21, 8:38 AM ET
For Cardinal fans, 'You Gotta Have Hart'
By Paul Pabst
Special to ESPN.com
Two and a half weeks ago, Bo Hart was sitting in a Triple-A dugout in Tacoma, Wash., when Memphis manager Danny Sheaffer called him back to the dugout.
"Take a break," Sheaffer told Hart, who had homered earlier in the game.
Hart thought little of it ... "Skip" is giving him a rest. The 26-year-old infielder was hitting .323 in June, pushing his season average to .300.
This was Hart's first season in Triple-A and maybe his last chance in baseball. He was a 33rd-round draft pick out of Gonzaga. A year earlier at Double-A New Haven, he was batting .249 and dealing with a broken thumb that shelved him for a stretch.
What Hart didn't know was that Cardinals second baseman Miguel Cairo broke a bone in his hand earlier in the evening. Cairo was playing due to an injury to Fernando Vina, their regular starting second baseman.
Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty wasted no time getting the message to Sheaffer.
"I went up to Bo, shook his hand and told him congratulations, you're going to the big leagues," Sheaffer said. "He was shocked, he asked me if I was serious, his mouth was hanging open."
"It's something you dream about hearing," Hart said. "I think I just froze for a bit. Then Danny told me to grab my stuff and get to the airport. I didn't really have a chance to say bye to my teammates."
The Cardinals were in Milwaukee for a day game against the Brewers. Hart had to hustle to get there by the next day, taking the red-eye to Pittsburgh before finally making it to Milwaukee.
"I couldn't sleep," Hart said. "I got maybe an hour. My mind was all over the place. I wanted to jump out of my seat, I was floating."
With little rest and a ton of anticipation, Hart made it to the visitors clubhouse of Miller Park where he saw the lockers of Albert Pujols, Tino Martinez and Jim Edmonds. Mixed in was a Cardinals road jersey hanging up on one of the stalls that read "Hart-31".
"That made it feel real," Hart said. "I'll always remember walking in there and seeing my jersey next to all those other players. People have been asking if I wanted a specific number ... I didn't care what they gave me. I like No. 5, but I don't think Pujols is giving that up any time soon."
Tony La Russa asked Hart if he was ready to play. A simple answer would suffice: "Yes."
It was just six months ago Hart was spending the offseason in Arizona after a mediocre year in New Haven. He was working at a department store to make a few extra dollars. Now Bo Hart is meeting Tony La Russa and about to become the starting second baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals.
"This is a long way from there," Hart said of his days in the men's section. "I know a lot of minor-leaguers who have part-time jobs to make ends meet. Working out a lot and finding a job to pick up some money, it's the nature of the minors lifestyle."
Just months after slinging sportcoats, Bo Hart had his dream in Milwaukee.
Less than 20 hours after getting the call in Tacoma, Hart hit a double, a triple and knocked in two runs, helping the Cardinals beat the Brewers 8-4. A day earlier Hart was an unknown in the sports world. That evening his triple was on SportsCenter. Anonymity was a memory.
Rex Hudler, Stubby Clapp ... names you might not know, but they were fan favorites for their hustle and productivity. Cardinal Nation was about to add another name to this roster.
Bo Hart didn't stop with just his two hits in Milwaukee. The Cards came home and he stayed hot, getting six hits in the next three games against the Royals. In fact, after his first nine major-league games, Hart had a batting average of .489, including two doubles, two triples, five RBI and his first career homer to lead off a game against Cincinnati.
"Bo goes from first to fifth gear, skipping the ones in the middle," said Andy Van Slyke, a former Cardinal and radio host on KFNS in St. Louis. "He plays like it's his last game. He does what needs to be done to win. I think he would take on (St. Louis Rams running back) Marshall Faulk if he were running at him, he'd take the hit if it would help the team."
In Hart's third game he had three hits to lead the Cards to a 8-1 win over Kansas City. On his final at-bat of the game, the Busch Stadium crowd couldn't hold back anymore. As Hart went to the plate, 41,000 fans gave him a standing ovation.
"I couldn't believe it," Hart said. "Everyone was up and clapping. I've played in front of crowds of 100 people before. I didn't know what to do, they just kept clapping. I kind of stepped out of the box and tipped my hat. I hope the fans know how much that meant to me."
Routine plays, meanwhile, are anything but that with Hart.
Barry Larkin saw it firsthand on a grounder that looked to be a sure out. Hart nearly beat the throw.
"You watch the replay and Larkin rolls his eyes," Baseball Tonight's Rob Dibble said. "Larkin couldn't believe how close that play was and the fans were cheering for the hustle, even though it was an out."
"Bo plays with unrivaled energy. Every play in the field, every at-bat ... it seems to mean the world to him," said Jonathan King, a lifelong Cardinals fan.
"Ninety-nine percent of these fans didn't know his name two weeks ago," Van Slyke said. "They love his hustle. I mean, he's getting standing ovations in his first week."
Or as one sign in the stands said: "You Gotta Have Hart."
The attention can sometimes be overwhelming.
"After a game the other day, Scott Rolen gave me some good advice. He said, 'you can say no sometimes'. Your main job is being focused on baseball, is what he told me," Hart said. "He told me to find a balance ... it's good advice from a guy who's gone through it."
Hart uses the word "floating" to describe his first days in the major leagues. Now it's about doing the job and even more so, keeping a job. Vina and Cairo will be back in the next few weeks and as of now, nothing has been promised to Hart.
"Everyone keeps asking me if I think I will stick, if the team will keep me for the rest of the season," Hart said. "I don't know, but I do know that I don't look forward to being sent down. If I play well enough, if I help the team win, that's what I can control and that's what would keep me here in some capacity.
"I've had a taste of playing with and against some of the best players in the world and I'm loving every minute of it. I was on Dan Patrick's radio show the other day and Dibble told me that when the Cards give me my own travel bag, with the Cardinal logo and my name and number on it ... that means I can put my feet up because I'm sticking around for a while. I don't know if I'll put my feet up, but I can't wait for the day I walk into the clubhouse and that bag is waiting for me in my locker."
Paul Pabst is the producer of The Dan Patrick Radio Show heard on ESPN Radio. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org